Their Consumer Products Directive, issued in 1986, was designed to make it much simpler for consumers to sue manufacturers for damages resulting from defective products.1 The contrast between the principles of European Community legislation and British law became a point of contention.
And so the Consumer Protection Act was written in 1987 to switch the burden from the consumer to the manufacturer. Written to bring English law into closer compliance with the laws of the European Community, this act only requires that the consumer prove that the product was defective, and that the defect in the product caused some sort of harm, either to the person or to the property of the consumer. Subsection 7 of Part I expressly forbids the sort of consent forms that had earlier absolved the manufacturers of any responsibility. Subsection 2 of Part I creates a whole crowd of possible defendants - the consumer may sue the "producer of the product" as well as any person who imported the product, or who put his/her own brand on the product (to make it seem that s/he had produced the product), or even a supplier somewhere along the supply chain, if that supplier does not reveal the source of the product in a sufficient amount of time.
The act's definition of a "defect" also calls to mind the sound of plaintiff's attorneys salivating over possible settlements. According to the act, a defect exists if "the safety of the product is not as such as persons generally are entitled to expect." The use of the word "generally" could take many forms in the mind of a socially conscious judge, or in the minds of jurors who had had negative experiences at the hands of defective products. These expectations come from a variety of sources: the marketing, packaging, instruction manuals, and consumer warnings2. Much comedy has arisen from the pedestrian directions and warnings that adorn the packaging of many consumer appliances - who wouldn't know, for example, to remove a hair dryer from the package before attempting use It may well be, however, that each silly instruction comes from a lawsuit brought by someone who did not know what to do.
There are several defences available to the manufacturer. Any defect that is a result of compliance with European Community regulations; any defect that did not exist in the product at the time when the consumer used it; and any defect that was not discernible to the manufacturer, because technology at that time did not reveal the defect, would not cause the manufacturer to be liable3. Given that the European Community wanted to foster a climate of geniality toward consumer protection, it is unlikely that it would produce regulations that create defective products. Other than the fact that the consumer has to demonstrate that the product defect led to harm of person or property, the Consumer Protection Act of 1987 appears to do just that.
The British government has undertaken a significant public relations effort to ensure that the public is aware of its rights under the CPA. (This effort would come to be self-defeating in the case of the Hepatitis C litigation, as will later come under discussion). The Consumer Affairs Directorate created a consumer guide4 that gives a thorough explanation of consumer